Guard members may be home by Thanksgiving

Monday, July 10, 2006

There's a chance that National Guardsmen from the unit based in Shelbyville might be back from Iraq before Thanksgiving.

That's according to Valerie McConnell, president of the Family Readiness Group that met Sunday afternoon in the Armory on South Cannon Boulevard.

Capt. Ted Webb, commander of Battery B 1st Battalion 115th Field Artillery, the unit that left Shelbyville in a motor coach caravan in late September, had said in an April e-mail to the Times-Gazette that the men should be home in time for Christmas.

That's still true, but for the wives, children, girlfriends, parents, brothers, sisters and other relatives and friends, the captain's information three months ago may have been conservative.

"It's been upped to the possibility they might be home before Thanksgiving," McConnell said after the Family Readiness Group meeting yesterday.

"This has nothing to do with the recent announcement" by the administration in Washington, D.C., she said, referring to media reports saying some troops might be back in September.

The soldiers left town with orders saying their service could last 12-24 months. If they return in mid-November, their service will have been 14 months.

Capt. Webb's e-mail in April indicated the orders were subject to changes by the Army.

He also reported there had been no injuries suffered by his men, and on Sunday McConnell reported that's still true.

"Nobody has been hurt, thank goodness," she said, adding, "They are putting in 14-16 hours a day."

The battalion is working three shifts per day in temperatures ranging from 120-133 degrees.

During recent exchanges of e-mails, Capt. Webb has refrained from saying where the battalion is working, although it appears clear they're in Iraq.

"They're homesick," McConnell said. "They're ready to come home. They're counting the days, but they know they have a job to do.

"They still have several months to go," she said.

If they return in accordance with this latest information shared by McConnell with more than a dozen wives yesterday, then the battalion's tour of duty will have been from mid-September 2005 to mid-November 2006.

"When they leave Iraq, they will go to Camp Atterbury in Illinois," she said.

That's where they went when they left Shelbyville to prepare for their time in Iraq.

Once the men return, there's to be a formal banquet for the soldiers and their wives, McConnell said.

The party is being planned by one of the soldier's in-laws. Support from the community for the event will be sought in the next few weeks.

"It's special that someone other than a soldier's wife who's thought of this," McConnell said.

Much of the other discussion during the Family Readiness Group meeting was on matters that make life at home more tolerable while soldiers are overseas.

The National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies had a representative present to discuss a subsidy for child care services for families that are not at military bases and when soldiers are away on duty.

"We've had five children born since the men were deployed," McConnell said.

Several soldiers had young children at home before deployment.

Tri-Care, the military's health insurance policy for families, was discussed by David Michaud, the family assistance coordinator assigned to serve this area.

"It is excellent," McConnell said of the insurance.

Meanwhile, soldiers' families are eligible to purchase new vehicles with an exemption from the state sales tax, McConnell said. That opportunity was discussed during the Family Readiness Group meeting.

"We have had at least four who have taken advantage of that," she said, noting that one bought a van and another bought an SUV.